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updated 10/17/2011 5:15:23 PM ET 2011-10-17T21:15:23

Libya's Moammar Gadhafi narrowly escaped being the target of the United States' first-ever overt cyberattack this past March, the New York Times reported in a story posted online Monday afternoon.

The attack would have tried to disrupt Libya's early-warning radar system and thus cripple the North African country's ability to fire back at attacking NATO aircraft, the newspaper reported.

But the Obama administration and the Pentagon chose instead to mount a conventional attack, partly because an American cyberattack might have set a dangerous precedent, and Libya might not have been worth the risk.

"We don't want to be the ones who break the glass on this new kind of warfare," Center for Strategic and International Studies cyberwarfare researcher James A. Lewis told the Times.

"These cybercapabilities are still like the Ferrari that you keep in the garage and only take out for the big race and not just for a run around town, unless nothing else can get you there," an unnamed Obama administration official told the newspaper.

Israel may have used such a cyberattack to disable Syrian air defenses during its successful September 2007 raid to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor, but this would have been the first time American forces engaged in one.

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